― Joseph Campbell/ Reflections on the Art of Living
For many years at this time of year, Julia and I would be heading to California to see our community and help lead High Holiday services. The Jewish High Holidays are called the days of Awe because they are an opportunity to return to our truest being, and enter once again into a state of wonder where we can see the world with fresh eyes. It is also a time of internal inventory, forgiveness and making amends.
The month before these days of Awe is called Elul, it is a time of preparation and study. Yesterday, I started my preparation by clearing the accumulated sea of weeds that had taken over our backyard.
Thích Nhất Hạnh was once asked why he spent so much time gardening when people enjoyed his poems so much. He said, I garden like this, so I can write poems like that.
After the yard was clear, I rehearsed and then sat with a stack of books to gather wisdom to weave into the services that I will gratefully get to lead for my family this year. In the midst of this gleaning, Julia and I had dinner and watched a movie called Still Life.
The day before, we had allowed ourselves to see Kubo, and the Two Strings, which is still in the theater. My friend Emmet insisted that, “masterpiece is an understatement,” when describing this film.
In contemplating both films, (which I highly recommend) as I went back to my preparations, I realized they offered me as much as the clearing of the weeds, studying and rehearsing. These films in opposite ways demonstrated the Hero’s Journey. Kubo, was among the finest examples of this mythical cycle I have seen. Joseph Campbell is smiling from beyond. It utilized artistic and cutting edge animation, magic, storytelling and high action to bring the hero to the brink and back and have him return with a valuable gift that allowed his village to expand within themselves.
It may, as Emmet predicts, win an Oscar, or it may go under the radar. Still Life, will most certainly go under most people’s radar. It was not animated, it was minimalistic. It did not utilize magic or high action. It was sparse, gracefully slow and so beautiful. It was not the film we thought it was going to be. If it had been, we would have thought it was quaint and forgotten it.
It was profound.
The hero of Still Life, is a solitary man who brings dignity to those who die alone. He looks for family and friends and if none can be found, he researches and writes their eulogies, selects their music and attends their funerals. He stands as a witness to their lives and upholds the beauty they held.
We can become so used to our need to be entertained, to fill in the spaces, it is refreshing to return to the grandeur of subtlety. We are being showered with gifts all around us every day that call us back to being.
I went back to my pile of books after the movie and Ram Dass had this to say to me:
“…You study the scriptures, you study with teachers, you read books, you collect knowledge. None of that is wisdom, it is merely the vehicle that’s going to help you get there. As we move toward wisdom, we move on a path from intellect to intuition, from knowing we know about something, to an intuitive sense of our interconnectedness with everything. Intuitive wisdom is an appreciation of something through becoming one with it.”
Whatever your Elul or journey is, may you return with something greater than yourself that you can share with the rest of us.